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Luhman Receives CAREER Award

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Kevin Luhman, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics, has received a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation. The award, which the agency describes as its highest honor for new faculty, provides funding for five years to stimulate the early development of academic careers in science and engineering. In addition to supporting his research on low-mass stars and brown dwarfs, Luhman’s CAREER award will support the development of a new graduate course on extrasolar planets and planet formation, undergraduate and graduate research activities, and a variety of outreach projects.

Luhman studies the formation of stars, brown dwarfs, and planets through optical and infrared observations with ground-based and space-based telescopes. One of his primary projects has involved measuring the number of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs as a function of mass to test a wide range of theories about their formation. Through deep photometric and spectroscopic surveys of nearby star-forming regions, he has searched for brown dwarfs down to masses of 0.01 solar masses—or about 10 Jupiter masses—and has compared the resulting data to predictions made by theoretical models for the formation of stars and brown dwarfs. To continue to test these theories more critically, he hopes to extend his measurements down to the mass of Jupiter in order to determine the lowest mass at which star-like bodies can form.

Luhman recently has begun a long-term program to characterize the process of planet formation around low-mass stars and brown dwarfs by using current observatories, as well as observatories expected to be in service in the near future. In an early result from this work, he and his collaborators have used the Spitzer Infrared-Array Camera to discover the two least-massive brown dwarfs known to have circumstellar disks.

Luhman is a member of the American Astronomical Society and has published more than 50 scientific papers about his research. He served on the NASA origins of the Solar System Review Panel from 2000 to 2002, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) Allocation Committee from 2001 to 2004, the NASA Hubble Space Telescope Review Panel in 2005, the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope Review Panel in 2005, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences Review Panel in 2006, the NSF Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Management Review Panel in 2006, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory Telescope Allocation Committee from 2005 to 2007.

Prior to joining Penn State in 2005, Luhman worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as an astrophysicist from 2002 to 2005 and as a postdoctoral fellow from 1998 to 2002. He earned bachelor’s degrees in in astronomy and physics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1993 and attended the Vatican Observatory Summer School in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, that summer. He earned a doctoral degree in astronomy at the University of Arizona in 1998.

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